On Friday morning, the 2019 edition of the Canadian National Exhibition launched. Shortly after the gates opened, my three-old-daughter and I headed down to the CNE to see what it had in store for its 141st year.
In addition to possibly being the first customers at Tiny Tim’s doughnuts (they’re a breakfast food!), we found fun, thrills and a chance to meet one of my daughter’s favourite cartoon characters.
What’s New This Year
Parents and little kids, you’ll be thrilled to discover the upgrades made to Kids Worlds. Don’t worry, the Arts Studio and the Pizza Nova Pizza Making station are still there, as is the Kids Korner with its play airport and grocery store but now it’s been expanded into a second room that features a cool, wooden play structure, a hair shop and a cooking show set. Mad Science, an interactive program aimed at getting kids into science, has also taken over a room with a giant light board, simple science exercise and the opportunity to make slime.
The Kids World stage is also back but this year’s programming has changed. Get your timing right and take in a show featuring The Chipmunks, Bob the Builder or Thomas & Friends. Then get ready to line up to meet members of Super BOOMI or Paw Patrol (meeting Skye was the highlight of my daughter’s very busy day).
While Kids World isn’t hosting Reptilia or a petting zoo this year, there is a butterfly encounter that’s essentially like a small-scale butterfly conservatory. Park your stroller outside and then carefully walk through the tent, where you’re allowed to pick up (gently!) the butterflies that land on the ground.
I need to note that the playground located inside Kids World was recently upgraded. The new, more inclusive design is a hit with children and my daughter likely could have spent an hour playing on it if I hadn’t lured her away with the promise of a ride on the classic carousel.
There are also plenty of new features outside of Kids World, including an exhibit of stunning National Geographic photos, a large-scale sculpture of Godzilla and The Ex Race, an extreme obstacle racecourse.
For many of us, the CNE is an annual tradition that’s packed with childhood memories. So, it’s nice to see that many aspects of it, such as the Farm Building, the airshow (which runs from Saturday, August 31 to Monday, September 2) and so many shopping opportunities are back once again.
A number of events are also returning including the cat show, President’s Choice Superdogs and dozens of live musical, dance and busker performances. And while it’s not yet a classic (it only debuted last year), Legends of the Silk Road is also back to wow your family with its impressive light display.
Speaking of lights, the CNE is once again home to two distinct midways. The main midway is perfect for older, school-aged kids while the kiddie midway, which alone contains over 30 rides, is designed to thrill your little ones without terrifying them. Both midways are also packed with games and other options to uh, liberate you from your money.
Do your children (or you) need to cool off? The splash pad is back up and running over near Kids World.
Food & Drink
And of course, the massive Food Building is back. Dozens of vendors are on hand selling everything from poutine to fried chicken to tacos. There are also vegan, gluten-free and under $5 options.
And let’s not forget about all the crazy food items. This year you can indulge in rainbow grilled cheese, frozen cookie dough “spaghetti” (it’s just shaped like noodles) and unicorn funnel cake (yes, it’s also rainbow patterned).
Pickles are a hot item this year. While I couldn’t work up the courage to try pickled lemonade, I did buy a helping of deep-fried dill pickled “chips” (really just slices of pickles) that came with a side of ranch dressing. They are delicious and my only complaint is that the portion size needs to be bigger. We also tried some fancy, flavoured marshmallows.
While the Food Building is packed with delicious items, it can be a bit of an overwhelming experience, especially around noon or dinnertime when it can seem like dozens of people wants the exact same meal combo that your preschooler is also set on. Thankfully, all kinds of tasty treats can also be found outside the Food Building, as well as additional seating.
Hints & Tips
- Staying on the topic of food: You are allowed to bring in outside food and drink, just be aware that all bags and coolers are subject to being searched.
- There are water refill stations located throughout the grounds.
- Food and drink prices add up fast and there are so many different tasty options available. Because of this, it might be a good idea to set a budget and some ground rules around what food items your kids can buy (for example, only one deep-fried item per kid).
- Same thing goes for the games and shopping (heads-up on the candy area of the Warehouse Outlet section).
- Wagon rentals are available, but you can’t rent strollers.
- The Farm Building is home to several kid-friendly attractions including a giant inflatable maze, motorized mini John Deere tractors and a train ride that are all free.
- Paw Patrol fans take note: Only one member of the pups are on-site during the meet and greets and who’s there depends on the day. Thankfully there is a schedule.
- And speaking of the meet and greets, the line-ups can look intimidatingly long but they move surprisingly fast.
- Need a break from walking? Then take the free EXpress train.
- The CNE operates rain or shine (though some outdoor events and rides may be cancelled due to ad weather) and there’s even a list of rainy day activities.
- Do plan on spending the whole day at the CNE. My daughter could have easily spent hours just in Kids Corner and then another couple of hours doing the rides in the kiddie midway.
How Much Is This Going to Cost Me?
Regular admission passes start at $16 for a child age five to 13, while adult passes are $20. Kids four and under are free. There’s also a $60 family pass available. Many Toronto school kids were sent home with a free CNE admission pass so if you don’t have one, ask in your local Facebook group if anyone has an extra pass.
Want to save some cash? August 19 and 26 are Kid’s Toonie Monday, where kids 13 and younger are only $2 with a paying adult. And everyone gets a reduced admission of $9 when they come after 5 pm, Monday through Thursday, excluding Labour Day.
Ride tickets cost roughly a $1 a ticket while ride-all-day passes are $62 for kids 13 and under and $66 for those over 13.
Other Key Details
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The CNE runs from August 16-September 2, from 10 am-midnight except on September 2, when the gates close at five and the grounds at 9 pm.
The easiest way to reach the CNE grounds is by GO Train (exit at Exhibition Station) or by TTC (the 29 Dufferin bus, the 504B King streetcar, the 511 Bathurst streetcar and the 509 Harbourfront streetcar all go directly to the grounds). Remember that kids 12 and under ride the GO and TTC for free. You can also park but be prepared to pay $30 or more and to have to drive several laps before you find a spot.
Feature photo via @letsgototheex